Sane online

I am a mum of three. It is a daily battle to negotiate screen time and it is the main thing that causes difficulty in our household. So why is it that so many of us struggle with this?

Screen time is so appealing to our children. And it is pretty appealing to us adults as it is a sure-fire way to ensure some peace, a break from the sibling bickering and the cries of “I’m bored!”.

I work with a lot of children and families and have done for many years. This behaviour is not new, it is certainly not unique to your family. So do not worry or listen to the voice that might be saying “You’re doing it all wrong!” or “Other people are better parents”.

When it comes to screen time, certain things are ‘normal’ (I don’t actually like the word normal because there are lots of things that we chose to do differently to other people and most are equally as OK as the other, but anyway….)

- Kids wanting more time on their screens than we think is helpful

- Us feeling frustration, anger and sadness about managing screen time

- Pushback from our kids when we say ‘time is up’

- Us wishing that our children could just find something more constructive to do

- Confusion; us being confused about why they love screens so much and them being confused as to why we make such a fuss!

I get asked a lot “What can I do about screen time?” so I thought I would give you a taste of the things that I suggest.

1. The first thing to remember is that putting in a boundary about screen time is often perceived by our child/ren as us being ‘mean’. So, discussing why it is important to you that they also spend time off screen is the first conversation to have. And make sure the conversation is not when they are on a screen, because that will end in tears (usually yours!)

2. It is OK to be honest with your child/ren about how you feel when the screen is all that they want. Avoid “you’re making me cross”. Own your feelings and try instead “When you are on the screen a lot, I feel sad because it is important to me to spend time with you/ that homework is done etc” Stick with the bits in bold as a structure and slot in your own stuff between. In local workshops I will explain why this is such a helpful way to structure sentences when we are talking about the tricky stuff that so often causes conflict.

3. Negotiate. Yup. Our children need this skill in life, so let’s start modelling it and practicing it now. I negotiate with my 5 year old. It is OK, we can still hold the boundaries; we are just giving them the opportunity to be heard and to express what they prefer. So, I might say “How long do you think is OK to be on the screen?” He will say 3 hours. I reply “That is a long time, I was thinking more 30 minutes?” No way he replies! “Hmm, what do you think might be OK, considering we could also use some time to go in the garden or play top trumps?” (Whatever your child likes to do with you). Leave room for pause and thought. He will then often say 1 hour. I reply, “How about we agree on 45 minutes, then we have time to be with each other and do other stuff we like?”. Agreed. This type of conversation will take some practice; you will have tantrums sometimes…hold the boundary and say, “When you are ready, we can talk about it again.” Do not be surprised by the tantrums; learning new things can feel uncomfortable and we know that it often takes a bit of struggle to really learn.

4. Meet their chaos; their anger and frustration, with your calm. Hold your ground. Try to respond with a calm talking voice. Don’t say anything when they are angry; they can’t hear it because they are angry and the more we engage in conversation the longer the rage lasts!

5. Remembering the other things they enjoy. When they are calm explain why it is important that they do other stuff away from a screen. List with them the stuff that they love to do so that when they say they are bored and want a screen, you can offer them their own list. I ran workshops with 8-11 year olds last week and they were all very quick to tell me what they loved to do to feel relaxed, excited, happy, exhilarated, focused, curious…all of the emotions they also felt when they were on their screens.

6. Model screen use. Often my boys would say “But YOU are on your screen, so that is not fair!” Good point. So now I have changed ring tones so I know who is calling and I make a point of putting my phone down away from me. I try very hard not to scroll through social media when I have a spare minute, and I am working hard to be more conscious that I have to model to my children that phones and screens do not need to be with us all of the time.

Fed up of seeing this?! I am...!!!

The school holidays are nearly here. I know some people begin to feel anxious about how to fill the time and how to avoid conflict and have a quiet and enjoyable time together. I hope that my ideas will help you stay sane when it comes to screen time. Be kind to yourself when you give these ideas a go and your child/ren push back. These things take practice; we need to create new habits and habits only form when we repeat and repeat and repeat!

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